Even attending one of the area's most affordable colleges is going to cost you more next year.
Tuition at Erie Community College will go up by $300 -- or $150 per semester -- to $3,900 for the 2012-13 school year.
That's an increase of 8.3 percent from this year.
The tuition hike -- the fifth at ECC in the past seven years -- was adopted by the board of trustees Friday as part of a $111 million spending package that accounts for rising costs, falling enrollment and stagnant support from the state and county.
As a result, students are being forced to pick up more of the financial burden, and it's unfair, said Student Trustee Bryan Meyers, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the tuition hike.
"I'm the student voice," said Meyers, president of the college's Student Government Association. "If you were to go out and ask 10 students if they want to pay more tuition, they're going to say, 'No.' "
The budget -- which increases the college's spending next year by 5 percent -- has been one of the more difficult in recent memory, ECC officials said.
Support from Erie County remains flat at $17.2 million.
State aid will go up a bit but is down significantly from a few years ago.
At the same time, employee health insurance and pension costs are projected to rise by more $2.2 million, said William D. Reuter, chief administrative and financial officer.
"It's a time of change for all the colleges," said Patricia H. Mertz, the board's chairwoman. "The state has cut all our budgets, and the county has flat-lined us, so we're adjusting."
The other issue is that ECC can no longer rely on additional revenues generated by a growing enrollment.
In recent years, rising enrollment at the college generated more aid from the state, which funds community colleges based on the number of full-time equivalent students.
But this year, ECC saw enrollment drop unexpectedly by more than 5 percent, and it projects student numbers to remain flat next year.
ECC axed 44 vacant positions from next year's budget to help cut costs and used $3.5 million in its fund balance to close a budget gap, Reuter said. Still, it wasn't enough to avoid a tuition hike.
"We ended up with a difficult, difficult budget, but it spreads the pain," said ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr.
"At $3,900," Quinn said, "it's still the best educational value."
Meyers, the student representative, agreed.
This $300 hike is the fifth tuition increase at ECC since the 2006-07 school year. Tuition also went up by $300 this past year; $113 in 2009-10; $200 in 2008-09; and $87 in 2006-07.
ECC tuition had been slightly below the average of $3,703 for New York's community colleges, but this latest hike probably will push it higher than the state average, Reuter said.
As a comparison, the average tuition for two-year schools across the nation rose 8.7 percent this past year to $2,963, according to the College Board, which tracks tuition trends.